from Clinical/Therapeutic Issues
"The standard convention of defining age-based childhood sexual abuse as uniformly negative, harmful, and coercive," the authors say, "may not accurately represent gay and bisexual men's sexual experiences."March 2, 2005 - The most recently published issue of The Journal of Sex Research (November, 2004) features a study conducted by Kim Bartholomew, Doug Oram, and Jessica L. Stanley.
The study, "Gay and Bisexual Men's Age-Discrepant Childhood and Sexual Experiences," recommends that researchers redefine Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) to consider the perceptions of the child who has been sexually abused.
The authors propose a new term, "Child Sexual Experience" (CSE) to "more accurately" describe the impact that a childhood sex experience has on the person. They do not believe that consensual, non-coercive sexual encounters between adults and minors are necessarily harmful-- and in some cases, especially those involving homosexual or bisexual boys in a sexual relationship with an older man, the experience may even be positive.
The authors sampled 192 gay and bisexual men to find out if they considered their sexual experiences to be abusive, positive, or neutral. Of the 192 interviewed, 50 (26%) reported a sexual experience before age 17 with someone at least five years or older. Of this 50 men, 24 (49%) perceived "their sexual experiences as negative, coercive, and/or abusive."
The survey was designed, in part, to test whether or not the person who perceived his sexual experience to be negative had more emotional adjustment problems. The study found higher rates of low self-esteem, problems with expressiveness, and problems with nurturance, among those who viewed their sexual experience as negative.
The current definition of Child Sexual Abuse is sexual interaction between a child or adolescent with a person who is at least five years older than the person who is being abused.
"The age-based definition of CSA is based on an implicit assumption that CSA invariably leads to harm, an assumption that has limited empirical support," say the authors of the study. "Although on average, people with CSA experiences are slightly less well-adjusted than those without such experiences, CSA accounts for less than 1% of the variance in adjustment. Furthermore, young gay men who described an age-discrepant sexual experience between the ages of 12 and 17 were found to have equally well-developed self-esteem and sexual identity as young gay men without such experiences."
The researchers distinguish between younger males who are molested by older men and who view such encounters as coercive and negative and older teens who engage in consensual sex with older males. The older teens view their encounters in a more positive light and many do not consider themselves as victims of child abuse.
The authors urge researchers to adopt a new definition of adult/child sexual encounters: Child Sexual Experience (CSE). This new definition takes into account the positive, non-coercive experiences that many young men feel during sexual encounters with older males.
The authors note that the redefining of Child Sexual Abuse to Child Sexual Experience has important relevance to young gay males. "Some in the gay community believe that some sexual experiences involving mature adolescents and older partners may be beneficial. ... These sexual experiences may provide these adolescents with the opportunity to explore their sexuality and feel affirmed by the gay community. ... It may be less threatening for young gay males to seek out an older gay male than to risk rejection and possible humiliation from making sexual advances toward a peer."
The authors conclude: "...the standard convention of defining age-based childhood sexual abuse as uniformly negative, harmful, and coercive may not accurately represent gay and bisexual men's sexual experiences. ... gay men with histories of nonnegative, noncoercive childhood sexual experiences with older people are as well adjusted as those without histories of age-discrepant childhood sexual experiences. ... Contrary to popular belief, negative outcomes do not inevitably follow from gay and bisexual men's childhood age-discrepant sexual encounters."
NARTH Leaders Respond To Study
Dr. A. Dean Byrd, a member of NARTH's Scientific Advisory Committee, has reviewed this study and observes: "This study is just another example of activism masquerading as science. By definition, children cannot consent to sex acts with adults. Just because a sexual experience is stimulating for a child renders no judgment on the appropriateness of the act itself. This is tantamount to saying that because a child has been raped and managed to get through the consequences of that rape without severe emotional damage, that the rape itself was not all that bad!"
NARTH President Joseph Nicolosi, Ph,D., added: "In recent years, gay-activist researchers have been reporting that sexually open relationships are 'healthy' for gay men. Now, this new study says that underage sex, too, can be 'healthy' for them. This says a lot about the nature of same-sex attraction. If gay men 'benefit' from promiscuity and underage sex, then something must be disordered about the homosexual condition itself."
Dr. David Blakeslee, a clinical psychologist with a practice in Oregon, has critiqued this gay/bisexual child molestation study. He offers the following comprehensive analysis:
This study is another attempt to lay the foundation for normalizing pedophilia. This effort was first begun by Kinsey in his landmark book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, and taken up more recently in the Rind et al (1998) study.
In the current study, the authors argue that because only 40-50% of adults who have been molested as children report negative outcomes, pedophilia is not inherently destructive. As with these previous studies, this study suffers significant scientific shortcomings which will mislead the public at large and could lead to public policy decisions that will harm children.
The argument is misleading at its core. There are a variety of behaviors in our society between adults and children that are sanctioned because they are only likely to have negative outcomes for the child: broadly these are defined as contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Our society has constructed such laws because it holds adults disproportionately responsible due to their maturity for behaviors associated with drugs, alcohol and sex, regardless of whether the child seeks the behavior.
These issues don't even have to be criminally related. Minors are only rarely able to give consent for a variety of medical procedures which could uniformly be good for them, yet our society requires that a guardian or parent give that consent. This is due to the well established scientific fact that children are compromised in their ability to provide informed consent.
This study provides false "scientific" cover for older men to manipulate and exploit vulnerable children who are struggling with their sexual identity in the name of helping them "explore their sexuality and feel affirmed by the gay community (p.388)." It is important to note that the average age of sexual abuse in the study is 11 and as young as age 2. How many two-years-olds really need help "exploring their sexuality and be affirmed by the gay community?"
The authors are of the opinion that children between the ages of 6-14 (66% of victims were between these ages) can give informed consent to the sexual advances of an adult who is between the ages of 17 and 31 (66% of offenders were between these ages). They clearly do not understand the developmental needs or limitations of children in these situations. Psychologists have known for several generations now that a child's ability to think abstractly and morally is affected by their age. How can the authors use the word "consent" with such a young population and call themselves members of a scientific community which has spent 60 years identifying the cognitive, moral and developmental limitations of children? They are members of such a scientific community in name only, and one suspects that their allegiance is not to the scientific community, but a different community--one that places the wishes and preferences of adults as a higher value than the needs of children.
Furthermore, the study seeks to establish that negative outcomes associated with pedophilia are due to the perception of the victim. Children who view their "age-discrepant sexual experience" (a post-modernist euphemism for pedophilia) as "neutral or positive" were much less likely to have negative outcomes in self-reported adjustment. This appears, on the face of it, to be blaming negative outcomes on the beliefs of the victim rather than the behavior of the adult.
The authors argue that because some children report these sexual events as neutral or positive that society should reevaluate its criminal criteria for the adults who lead and guide these children in sexual behavior. This argument is profoundly troubling because the authors themselves acknowledge that there are no clear criteria that can help parents, police, and judges predict which children will experience the sexual contacts as negative or abusive. It is troubling because negative outcomes appear to affect a significant number of children throughout the lifespan. Will the authors be around in 30 years when a new group of children we thought wouldn't be harmed by "positive or neutral" pedophilia are dealing with the near permanent negative consequences of abuse?
The authors do not explore why a significant number of men initially experienced the sexual abuse as neutral or positive but only later grew to see it as negative and abusive. This migration from the "no-harm" to the "harm" category is a product of maturity and insight of the victim. They discover that "age-discrepant sexual relationships" are not "special attentions" of a prized adult but the lecherous manipulations of a selfish adult. The authors do not even discuss how many more members of the "no harm" group they expect to migrate to the "harm group" in the upcoming years. This is an important omission by the authors and again betrays their bias toward underreporting potential negative outcomes for children being sexually abused.
Unexplored by the scientists is whether these men who had been sexually abused as children had later engaged in sexual abuse of children themselves. If one described their sexual abuse as negative, were they more or less likely to sexually abuse children themselves? It is reasonable to suggest a hypothesis that those who viewed the abuse neutrally or positively are more likely to sexually abuse children themselves. The fact that this obvious implication of the study was not explored is another example of its bias to present data which minimizes the potential negative effects of pedophilia.
Very late in the article the authors briefly remind the readers that the study itself is flawed in its dependence on retrospective analysis. Such studies artificially minimize the effect of traumatic events due to the constructive power of coping mechanisms. People use such coping mechanisms over a number of years to compensate for negative events. Simply put, retrospective studies under report the effect of trauma because people have a vested interest in overcoming such trauma through defenses such as repression, minimization and compartmentalization.
It is the growing problem in our society where adults work in the courts and through the legislature to protect themselves from other manipulative and deceptive adults but do not work with the same vigor to protect citizens who cannot vote or protect themselves. It is an indictment of our society that at the very time that adults are trying to protect adults from the wiles of telemarketers, scientists are manipulating science to protect adults who prey on children.
In addition, this study does not examine the potentially negative effect of same-sex behavior on heterosexual children. These age-discrepant abusive events are likely to be more damaging to heterosexual children who are needlessly sexualized in a direction not consistent with their sense of identity. For this reason, the study will tend to underestimate the negative effects of sexual activity with children overall, as it underreports the more dramatically negative potential for confusion and disruption of normal development in heterosexual children.